When farming partners split
By Dr. Donald J. Jonovic
THE PROBLEM: How can years of undefined land transactions be straightened out when partners decide to split? ~Submitted by U.F. via email
My dad and older brother originally farmed together. When Dad retired, I took over his interest in the farm.
Some time later, our uncle came to me and wanted me to farm his 300 acres. Thinking that my brother and I farmed together, I told my brother, and we farmed that land together.
Another property was offered to my brother, and again, thinking we farmed together, I got set to do it with this land also, but I was told that "maybe we farm some ground together, but we do not ‘farm' together." He told me he would farm this new land by himself.
We continued farming the same as always, going over all of the ground together, until several years had gone by, and I was told that I was not doing enough. My brother took the land he brought, and I was given what Dad brought to what they farmed together. This split was engineered by my brother alone. I was not consulted.
We kept farming my uncle's farm and purchasing property together for a while, but we've now decided to split totally. The land we bought together came to us through my brother, so he is taking the better-quality land in exchange for him bringing the land. My uncle's farm is under protest. My brother thinks he should get half of that farm, even though I brought it to us.
I say that our uncle's property should go to me. My brother says I am greedy and will see to it that I'll lose other property I farm if I don't let him have half. Am I wrong to feel used?
Dr. Jonovic's solution
The situation of U.F. and his brother is tangled and knotted up by years of unshared assumptions, unrecorded decisions, lack of written agreements, and positions based on opinions supported by facts that are totally in dispute. Add to that an older brother's unilateral assumption of power and superiority, and we could all agree that U.F. is in a very bad place.
Over the years, I have repeated in many ways and forms the same basic fact of business life: If an agreement isn't in writing, it effectively doesn't exist.
Verbal or assumed understandings usually are little more than conflicting opinions held by people in training for inevitable all-out war. So now that the bullets are flying, U.F. has only three options as far as I can see.
- He can sit down with his brother and slog through a messy process of negotiation, for which neither is prepared nor experienced.
- He can take the undefined mess into court, but the only likely winners in that situation are lawyers.
- He can remain consistent with his past behavior and roll over, accepting whatever his brother thinks is just and fair.